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A new threat could send the price of this major food staple soaring: 'It is a very serious situation'

In Nigeria … prices have risen 55% in just two months.

Prices have risen 55% in just two months.

Photo Credit: iStock

Global sugar prices are at their highest since 2011 and may keep rising, largely due to changing weather patterns that are caused by pollution and have affected crop harvests. For many people around the world, the consequences are dire.

What is happening?

Unusually dry weather has recently damaged harvests in India and Thailand, the world's second- and third-largest sugar exporters. 

The dry conditions are partly due to El Niño, the weather patterns that occur every two to seven years over the Pacific Ocean. In recent years, El Niño conditions have intensified due to the overheating of our planet and changing weather patterns brought about by human-caused pollution. This has led to flooding in some places and drought in others.

In addition, sugar is being used to make biofuels — cleaner alternatives to dirty energy sources like gas and oil — such as ethanol, further taxing global sugar reserves.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts a 2% decline in global sugar production — a loss of over 3.85 million tons — in the 2023-2024 season.

Why is this concerning?

In Nigeria, a country with a population of 210 million people, sugar prices have risen 55% in just two months. As flour prices have also risen during that period, many bakers have been unable to stay in business, resulting in less of the staple food that so many people rely on.

"It is a very serious situation," Ishaq Abdulraheem, a Nigerian baker, said. Abdulraheem said he has been forced to cut his bread production in half.

Sugar is far from the only food that has seen its supplies shrink due to the effects of human-caused pollution. Last year, an unusually low orange yield in Florida drove orange juice prices to record highs. And in Mexico, a drought led to a dearth of chili peppers, resulting in a sriracha shortage — and those are just a couple of the many examples.

What is being done about it?

Luckily, the number one sugar exporter, Brazil, is expected to have a 20% bigger crop than last year, according to Kelly Goughary, a senior research analyst at the agriculture data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence.

But as for the future, we can expect harsh weather conditions to continue to intensify and affect the harvests of various crops as long as we continue to burn massive amounts of dirty energy sources like gas and oil.

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